Pfizer: The Drug Giant That Makes Bank from Drugs That Can Kill You
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Why was Pfizer's pain drug tanezumab, an injected monoclonal antibody made from bio-engineered immune cells, even considered for knee pain except for the profits in such Frakendrugs?
Why was Pfizer allowed to continue clinical trials on children, or anyone, after the FDA found Geodon overdoses in April -- and why is Geodon, rejected once by the FDA and promoted by Richard Borison MD who is in Hancock State Prison for research fraud -- hello -- on the market? Obama appointees Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD and principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, MD come from public health backgrounds but it will be hard to turn the FDA ship around.
And speaking of dangerous drugs, what's up with Pfizer's anti-smoking drug Chantix?
In 2007, Texas musician Carter Albrecht, who played with Sorta and Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, became a poster boy for Chantix' unpredictable mental effects when he was fatally shot trying to kick in a neighbor's door. In 2008, with 988 adverse effects reported including seizures, heart trouble and suicides, the FDA banned airline pilots and air traffic controllers from taking it. Thanks for that. Last year it gave Chantix a black box warning to "highlight the risk of serious mental health events including changes in behavior, depressed mood, hostility, and suicidal thoughts when taking these drugs."
Most pharma watchers agree that financial penalties, including last year's $2.3 billion Bextra settlement, won't upend Pfizer whose one year budget for R & D alone is in the billions. Yet the DOJ repeatedly lets Pfizer pawn off guilty pleas to the False Claims Act (which include a ban on Medicare, Medicaid and VA eligibility) on its shell companies and keep doing business with the government. Why?
"Pfizer is the largest drug company in the world and if you include its generics unit it makes literally hundreds of different drugs. Getting tough would mean no Lipitor, no Viagra, no Bacitracin, no Cipro, no Zithromax, no Sutent, et cetera," says Jim Edwards, a pharmaceutical reporter on Bnet and former managing editor of Adweek. "The government is not really in a position to be cutting itself off from all that medicine."
"So many Medicaid, Medicare and VA drugs come from Pfizer, the government would never convict them," agrees Peter Rost. "It would stop the drug flow."
And then there's lobby power.
Just as former Louisiana Republican representative Billy Tauzin left the House Committee on Energy and Commerce which oversees the drug industry and resurfaced as head of PhRMA, Pfizer recently hired Gregory Simon who served on Obama's transition team and as chief domestic policy advisor to Vice President Gore to head its "global policy effort." Its senior corporate counsel until 2008, Arnold Friede, had an FDA background and Pfizer's former senior vice president for worldwide public affairs, Richard Bagger, has re-emerged as New Jersey Governor Christopher Christie's chief of staff. Hey, you guys look familiar!
Even the Bextra settlement arouses cynicism since $102 million of it went to a doctor and five former Pfizer reps who served as whistleblowers on the case, one getting $51 million.
Isn't making big money off pharma how the trouble started?
Martha Rosenberg frequently writes about the impact of the pharmaceutical, food and gun industries on public health. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune and other outlets.